Saturday, February 11, 2012

Do the Weather Hokey-Pokey!

Wait! I thought Spring had sprung!
Old Man Winter has finally decided to pay us a visit this year. As I told you before, it's been a very warm winter... Until today! It is 29°F as I write this at around 10:30pm, with a very cold, biting wind out there. According to the Weather Channel, it feels like 21° with the wind chill.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Laying Out the Details

My Section
Today, I thought I would focus on how I plan to use my 4' x 4' section of the family garden bed. In Square Foot Gardening, you space your plants based on the recommended spacing for the plant type, only in a grid pattern instead of a single row. So, for instance, if the planting instructions say to thin to 6 inches apart in rows that are 3-4 feet apart, you ignore the part about the row spacing, and plant in a grid, where the plants are six inches apart laterally and six inches apart front-to-back. Also, to do things the true SFG way, you would set up a physical grid as a guide. (It's also ornamental.)

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Garden Plan

The Layout
I thought that today I would discuss the plans we have for our garden, this year. Our square-foot garden plan calls for each of our six family members to have their own 4’ x 4’ garden plot. The layout will be as follows:

Each box will be approximately twelve feet in length, separated into three approximately-four-foot sections. The beauty of working with plants is that we aren’t all that concerned with precision. We will put a parent in each middle section, with a child on either side. That way, if someone needs help, we’re right there. Also, it will help to prevent quarrelling. Of course, you can never completely prevent it, but we do what we can to maintain harmony in the home. By making each section four feet square, you never have to reach farther than two feet to get to any part of your garden. Thus, you avoid compacting and disturbing the soil unnecessarily, thus helping it to remain aerated and healthy. I found a great resource for anyone looking to start a garden of your own, even a small one. The website is Garden Girl, by Patti Moreno. In particular she has a video explaining how to build a raised-bed garden. I also like the fact that she also raises small livestock and rotates the raised beds between using them for vegetables and using them for animals. This allows the soil to be continually fertilized (she still composts, though) and tilled. Talk about using nature to fullest! She has many other great tips on gardening and related topics. I highly recommend you check out her website!

The Soil

I’ve been refreshing myself on Mel Bartholomew’s techniques for Square Foot Gardening. Previously, here’s what my mind understood: You mix equal parts of Compost, Peat Moss, and Vermiculite to make the soil. I didn’t even know what the peat moss and vermiculite were for, but I was trying to follow instructions. Unfortunately, my efforts were a dismal failure, because I FAILED TO READ FULLY! There are quite a few details that I just plain missed. For example, it wasn’t until years later that I learned the peat moss and vermiculite are not for nutrition or fertilization, but for water retention. Also, I when I mixed my soil, I just did my best to mix it all up and then dump it evenly in my frame. I had read that with SFG, you don’t have to water as much. What I failed to read was that you DO have to water a lot at the very first, in order to saturate the vermiculite and peat moss!
Another important detail I missed was about the compost. When I read “equal parts” of the three ingredients, I went down to the store, and bought some of each and mixed them up, in roughly equal amounts. What I failed to pay attention to was the fact that one single type of compost is not sufficient. Mel advocates mixing compost from at least five different sources, including mushrooms, animal manures (from animals that do not have meat diets), and other sources. So, needless to say, this year will be a bit different.

The Seeds

We sat down as a family a few weeks ago to decide what we wanted to plant this year. Each of us picked at least one thing in particular to grow in our own section. My second daughter, Faith, decided she wants to grow pumpkins. Why? She’ll only have one plant to take care of. Yeah, we’ll just have to see about that. I mean she’s going to have sixteen square feet to work with. Pumpkins are typically thought of as sprawling plants, but they can actually be grown as a climbing plant, just like any other vine. You just need a frame that is strong enough to handle the heavy fruit. Here is a great video I found that discusses this, as well as some other great ideas. The best part (in my opinion) of the two videos that I have linked in this post is that they both show people growing very successful gardens in urban areas, with small amounts of space to work with. Also, while they use brand new materials that they have purchased at their local hardware store, you do not have to buy everything new. Many things you see can be made with substitute, scrap materials that you find. Use your imagination, but remember to match what you’re building to the size of the plant you will be growing on it. Also, if you use wood, be absolutely sure that you follow their counsel NOT to use treated wood. Treated wood will leach chemicals into your soil and by extension your vegetables. Untreated wood does not have this problem.
Ok, I kind of got away from seeds, there. Sorry about the digression, but I think it’s okay. Another aspect of gardening that I want to work with is companion planting. This is an aspect I have read and heard a lot about, and I have talked with people who have used it. I don’t know enough about it to comment at this time, but I will be spending some time educating myself. The one thing I do know is that my carrots and radishes will be planted together, mostly because my wife says so, LOL. So the plants we have decided on are:
·         Tomatoes (just can’t have a garden without these babies! Sam will be growing these)
·         Pumpkins (mostly for Faith)
·         Watermelons (Alexandria)
·         Carrots (Me)
·         Radishes (Also me, although Heather is the one who insists on them)
·         Eggplants (Billy, although we may decide not to do these)
·         Corn
·         Green Beans
·         Peas
·         Spinach
·         Cucumbers
·         Onions
We may choose some others, but that’s the list we have so far.

One Final Note

Well, that about wraps it up for this post. If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear them. I may not be a complete newbie at gardening, but I still have a lot to learn. Any help, advice, personal stories, etc. are most welcome. Thanks for reading!

No News

A Quick Correction
Before diving into this week’s blog post, I need to correct something I said last week. I mentioned that I was switching to my word processor (Which is Microsoft Office Word 2010) because it has a blog feature, and it also has autosave. While what I said was correct, the implication that Blogger does NOT have autosave was most definitely incorrect. It certainly does. I just was up late that night and not thinking very clearly.

All my previous posts were submitted using the web interface that is a part of Blogger, and last week was the first time I submitted using MSWord. I have to say I prefer using Word. The online interface gets the job done, but I find it to be very clunky. The box where you edit your text is too small for my taste. I like to see much more of what I am working on at the same time. Formatting also seems to be klunky.

Okay, Now To This Week

As you may have guessed from the title, I don’t really have anything to report on the family garden plans, this week. It’s January, and it’s in the 60’s here. As I said previously, we moved from Idaho to Alabama about five years ago. This is the first January I’ve seen here that it hasn’t been freezing. Not that I’m complaining, but I wonder what this bodes for the rest of the year. We actually have trees that think it’s Spring. New leaves are budding. Maybe we should plant early? Of course, there’s still plenty of “Winter” left on the calendar for a freeze to happen. And it hasn’t been consistently warm, anyway. We’ve been on a temperature roller coaster the past few weeks. Down near freezing for two or three days, then back to Spring for a few. Today it’s been stormy. We’ve had a couple thunderstorms roll through this morning, and we were even under a tornado watch until noon. Although tornadoes can happen anytime, the season for them doesn’t typically begin here until March, when the weather normally starts to warm up.

Since there’s nothing new to report on our garden, I thought I would post some general information regarding gardening in general. My wife and I are people who believe in striving to be prepared for emergencies. That’s all too often easier said than done, but we try. I’ve talked to people who have the attitude that if something happens they’ll rely on the fact that they live close to help and resources, so “being prepared” in the traditional sense is something done but whack-jobs who are living in the past. Personally, I may be a whack-job (please don’t go confirming that with people who know me), but I try to be one who learns from the past. Years ago, I took a freshman-level history class in which the professor once remarked, “History does NOT repeat itself.” I did not ask him to explain himself, but I have given the notion some thought over the years. While it may be true in the literal sense (after all, World War I isn’t going to happen again), historical patterns DO repeat themselves (other world wars will likely occur… oh wait, we’ve already HAD World War II, hmmm…)

If we should ever find ourselves without the ability to purchase food (or otherwise to obtain it from someone else) it’ll take us longer to starve if we have food growing in our backyard than if we didn’t. If we grow more than we need of something, it also gives us the opportunity to preserve it for the future, such as by canning, freezing, or drying. “What if there’s no power? Your frozens will thaw out and in a short time spoil.” True, but not all circumstances would cause power failure. That’s why we use a variety of storage methods. The point is to have food stored. Also, the extra food comes in handy when someone else is in need.

Another reason we have decided to garden is for health reasons. In the past few years, I have found it necessary for me to be very careful with my diet. I’m won’t delve into the details right now, but vegetables are a highly necessary things for me, and it can be quite a bit cheaper to grow them yourself than to purchase them in the store, depending on the vegetables you choose to grow. One of my favorites is spinach, and our local supermarkets don’t sell it in bunches the way I’ve seen it in other places. You can only buy the packaged spinach, and I know that over time I can grow it cheaper than they sell it for.

Uhhh, I Mean Last Week

I wrote the above post last week, but never posted it because it wasn’t finished, and I never got a chance to finish during the week. So I’m just going to post it now and start on this week’s post!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Planning Time

Another resolution down the tubes!

I tell ya, it just seems to be hard to stick with anything on a regular basis! In my last post, I said my goal for 2012 was to "Blog weekly (beginning this Saturday, January 7th)." Here we are at the 16th, more than two Saturdays later, and I am finally getting the next post written. Ok, to be fair, I actually did start writing Saturday evening (the 14th), but I didn't get it finished, and I didn't remember to backup what I had. So, when we lost power for a second, I lost it all. That's okay, because I think I needed to start over, anyway. This time, though, I'm a little smarter about it. Instead of using the web interface to write this post I've switched to using my word processor, using its blogging feature. It also has Autosave!

I decided years ago that "New Year's Resolutions" were a dumb idea. I mean, why should we wait until the New Year to set goals and plans and try to better ourselves? Shouldn't that be something we do occasionally all year long? Well, this year, I found myself doing it without actually realizing that I was essentially setting "New Years" resolutions until it was too late. I guess, I was looking back at 2011 and realized that I didn't make as much personal progress as I had hoped for, so I naturally started setting a few goals. I do that from time to time, so maybe it "just happened" to coincide with the beginning of the year this time. Who knows?

The Garden Plan

My wife and I went to The Home Depot today (for something unrelated to gardening), and while we were there we decided to walk through the garden center and start planning. We moved from Idaho to Alabama five years ago, and I still can't get used to the idea of Home Depot, Lowe's, Wal-Mart, and all the others stocking their garden centers in the middle of January! I really got excited looking at all the plants and supplies that have already been set out. I hope we are able to stick with it.

Later, we sat down at home with the whole family and did some more planning. We have decided to do a square-foot garden, and have chosen some plants we want to grow. Some of the details need to be fleshed out a bit, but at least we are getting started earlier! I'm looking forward to harvest time and actually doing some canning this year. It has been years since we have had a large enough harvest to can some food.

Follow Up

In my last post I promised that I would do some thinking about how I can avoid life distracting me from the garden. So far, I've only come up with two items:

  • Make the garden a priority. When the plants need attention, give it to them. Don't put the garden on the back burner. Have a regular time for checking up on it. Be sure to harvest as food becomes ready. This will help them to keep producing, and will supplement our diet with fresh home-grown vegetables. Yum!
  • Enlist the help of my family. Usually, the garden is a family project, so this one isn't really an issue. However, last year we decided that we weren't going to have a garden. Later in the year, I decided to do a little bit without the family's help. Enough said about that! Also, doing it this way, it becomes part of the children's chores, so we are more apt to make sure they do it (meaning we do it as well).
I think that's about it for this post. As I said, we have some more details to iron out and then we need to start collecting the materials we don't yet have. More to come later. Ciao!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Thank Heaven for Recurring Seasons

Another year, and...
what the heck happened to my plants?! Oh yeah. Life happened. Details? Well, I'm not going to bore you with a lot of them, but here are some highlights.

My last post was July 16, 2011. A couple weeks went by where things came up and I just pushed aside the blog. Then I received word that my grandfather was terminally ill. I live in Alabama, and he was in New Mexico. Some of my family had driven there, because they lived closer. I booked a flight, as did my sister. We flew into the same airport, shared a rental car and were able to spend a couple days with him in the nursing home. That was great, because when I first received the phone call, I was convinced that I wouldn't get to see him again. At least not in this life. I'm grateful I was able to tell him 'Goodbye' before he passed.

After that, work really picked up and we have spent the last several months working some long hard hours. It's been great, but hasn't left me much time to even think about blogging. Basically, that's because my priorities are ordered like this:
  1. My family
  2. My "day job"
  3. My family
  4. My church responsibilities
  5. My family
  6. Other stuff (which, for now, includes both gardening and blogging)
So, needless to say, all my "starts" have stopped. My herbs died. My tomatoes didn't die until it got really cold (we had a nice wet year, and they were outside... okay, they still ARE outside), but they stopped growing and never produced any fruit.

The result of my gardening experiment is a lesson reinforced... Don't start any type of a garden unless you are convinced of your ability and desire to care for it properly on a long-term basis!

2012 - Happy New Year!
As the title of this post suggests, I am looking forward to starting my garden anew. However, I will start earlier and plan it out better. I won't be doing a spur-of-the-moment job. However, I will still face the same problem I ran into last year. Namely, how am I going to make sure that whatever life throws at me doesn't become the death of my plants?

As of this writing, I don't have the answer, but I will spend some time this week thinking about it and let you know what I come up with.

Another obstacle I will have is that this year I am planning a few other projects that (at least for now) are completely unrelated to gardening. I hope to be blogging about those projects as well. So, if anyone can get me a Harry Potter-style "time turner" so I can be in two or more places at the same time, I'd sure appreciate it!

Well, that's it for now. Just thought I'd let everyone know what had happened. My goal for 2012: Blog weekly (beginning this Saturday, January 7th) and keep everyone informed of how things go. Thanks for reading!

 - Jim